New Year’s Eve watch night services don’t rank among my favorite childhood memories about the church where I grew up. I didn’t have an issue with the concept of ringing in the new year in church as much as I did with, well, ringing in the new year at midnight.
My internal clock and I struggled to stay awake during the six-hour service/event/ordeal.
I was good for the first half—a potluck supper, singing, musical performances and testimonies. It was the last few hours that did me in—a longer than usual sermon, and then we would pray in the new year. As I said, good in theory, but not in practice. Sometimes it was hard to even hear what people were praying.
All of my attention was focused on my gold Timex watch, willing the minute hand to creep faster to midnight and then home to bed and blessed sleep.
My disposition didn’t improve with age, especially given that our youth group scheduled an all-night after party that extended the longest service of the year, well, all the way to breakfast. I really, truly wanted to be fast asleep, not standing at the top of a toboggan run at two in the morning about to hurtle down the snow-packed chute in utter darkness. Combine that with my sleeplessness, and I was a bundle of exhaustion and anxiety.
Now decades have passed. We’re on the other side of New Year’s midnight. College Church lets me go to bed whenever I want as we usher in the new year.
So I’m happily into 2019.
But every December 31, I remember the sleepy feelings of the service that would never end and can’t help but think of people sleeping in the New Testament.
I relate well to the disciples, wide awake as waves crashed into their boat. This time it was Jesus who was fast asleep, and the disciples woke him up, yelling over the winds and the waves, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” If we’re honest, we echo the disciples’ wake-up call to Jesus when waves of disappointment, anxiety, fear or betrayal crash over us.
Don’t you care, Jesus?
Jesus didn’t answer the disciples’ plaintive cry. Instead, he rebuked the wind and addressed the sea. “Peace! Be still!” And they were. Nature had no doubt who Jesus was; it was the disciples who wondered, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”
Does Jesus care? I also relate well to the disciples, fast asleep in the garden, eyes heavy, struggling to stay awake and not succeeding. More was at stake than just staying awake till midnight; Jesus’ hour had come. He didn’t want the disciples to sleep through it—literally and figuratively.
It was a grace that Jesus would wake them up. It’s a grace when Jesus wakes us from our spiritual sleep. The disciples were on the cusp of a whole lot more than a new year—Jesus was about to usher in a new age of hope and life and light. Their sleepiness did not keep them from God’s love and grace because it was all on Jesus after all. Maybe part of the point is that they—and we—can’t stay awake. Jesus sweats drops of blood, and we disciples fall into sleep while Jesus calls us to watch and pray.
As disciple-like as I am, I’d rather be like the wind and the sea and instantly obey Jesus. Then, waking or sleeping, I’ll have peace and will be still.
I can be like that. But I must confess that all too often I’m not the wind or the rain.
I’m a tired person.
All too often I’m more like Eutychus falling out the window. I’m surrounded by Pauls and I’m blessed and alive and, yes, resting in the goodness that only comes from God himself. That’s real and lasting rest for every day or every year.